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Getting a Job!

Is Your Teen Ready for the Workforce?

As the school year winds down, teens are dreaming of trips to Virginia Beach, King’s Dominion, and the mall, while parents are looking at educational road trips, memorable family vacations, and community service projects to fill in the schedule.

“I want my kids to have fun this summer, but I also want to be sure they spend time doing something meaningful,” says Kimberly, Chesterfield County mom of three children, 16, 13 and 7.

Could it be time for a summer job? In addition to the obvious benefits like earning spending money or supplementing college savings, seasonal employment might help Kimberly’s older kids develop important skills. “It’s a great way to build confidence, to apply work skills outside of the classroom, and to build self-esteem and promote maturity,” says Regina Brown, school counseling specialist for Henrico County Public Schools.

Kimberly admits that she never considered the possibility of summer employment for her children and has noIdea how to prepare her kids for the job application process.

According to Brown, it’s important to understand the rules. Established to protect kids, federal and state child labor laws place restrictions on the types of job duties teens can perform and the number of hours they can work. State regulations specifically require employment certifi- Cates for teens aged 14 and 15. Teens can pick these up at most public schools, and some private schools, or ask a guidance counselor for more information. Parents who own businesses can employ their kids, but with certain restrictions. The Youth Rules! Website from the U.S. Department of Labor is a solid source for more information on child labor laws.

If teens are interested in traditional summer employment, parents can help them target the right jobs. In today’s tough economy, kids will find themselves competing against experienced adults who are out of work.

To optimize the job search, Heather Moose of Richmond-based advises teens to zero in on categories that are particularly suited for them. “Don’t be picky!” says Moose. “Stick to quick service establishments such as fast food restaurants, grocery stores and movie theaters. AMC [for example] loves teens for ticket-takers.” In spite of the current economic conditions, Moose is optimistic, and insists employers prefer a positive attitude above experience.

How much involvement should a parent have in a teen’s job search? “Little to none,” says Brown from HCPS. “The parent should have some input on the type of job and work hours, but should not apply for or seek the job for the kid.” First-time job seekers, however, might need a little extra support. This is where parents can guide their teen through the basic rules of professional etiquette such as completing error-free and neat applications, dressing properly, and behaving respectfully. “Your first impression is the job application,” says Moose. “Have a separate email address for job applications, and change the voice mail on your cell phone.” Moose warns that a goof in any of these areas will eliminate a teen from consideration.

How can a parent tell if a teen is mature enough to handle the responsibilities of a job? Communication is key. Listen to your child and see if he or she is even interested in the prospect of working. But be prepared for anything. “Sometimes it doesn’t matter if the parent thinks [the child is] mature enough,” says Brown. “If the teen wants a job and is motivated to go find one and apply, then they are motivated enough to be successful – and perhaps the job will help to mature the student.”

On the other hand, Brown cautions that summer employment can interfere with the transition to high school for some 14-year-olds. Transportation can be tricky, too. She advises parents to be mindful of work commitments for teens who aren’t able to drive.

That’s why Brown suggests looking close to home for employment. She also says many teens consider positions based on their own career interests, or the discount the establishment offers its employees. Entrepreneurism is another fantastic way to beef up the savings, gain work experience, and hone important skills. Innovative products and services designed by children have replaced the traditional lemonade stand. Neighbors are usually in need of babysitting and childcare, pet watching, plant watering, lawn care, and home maintenance.

Obviously, summer employment is not for every child. Factors such as vacation schedules, summer school commitments, and participation in organized sports should be considered. Many employers, however, are willing to work around scheduling conflicts. Under the right conditions, a summer job is a great opportunity to build important job skills that can benefit a child for a lifetime.

Kimberly says she will give strong consideration to summer employment opportunities for her children, but still worries about providing a well-rounded summer experience. “I don’t want their entire summer vacation to be about work. They will have the rest of their lives for that.”

Andie Radford is a freelancer and HR professional who lives and writes in Richmond.
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